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European official vows to go forward with U.S. data-privacy deal

By Linda Rosencrance
July 14, 2000 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The European Union official who led negotiations over the proposed "safe harbor" data-privacy rules for U.S. companies that do business in Europe yesterday said he would recommend that the rules be adopted as is, despite last week's vote by the European Parliament requesting a series of changes.
Frits Bolkestein, the European commissioner for internal markets, told the parliament's Civil Liberties Committee in Brussels that he plans to advise the full European Commission to adopt a draft version of the safe harbor provisions as "adequate protection" for personal data transferred from the 15 member states of the European Union to the U.S.
According to a report posted on the European Commission's Web site, Bolkestein said the parliament's resolution last week didn't claim the commission had acted beyond its powers in earlier assessments that the provisions would be enough to make U.S. companies compliant with stringent European privacy regulations.
The resolution approved by the parliament criticized the safe harbor agreement as inadequate and called on U.S. and European officials to go back to the negotiating table (see story). However, under the rules of the European Union, the European Commission isn't legally obligated to grant the parliament's demands.
The agreement has been in the works for nearly two years through a series of talks between U.S. and European officials. Its provisions are supposed to clear the way for U.S.-based companies to engage in e-commerce transactions with European customers and to continue downloading employee information from corporate databases in Europe.
Bolkestein did promise yesterday to convey the European Parliament's concerns about the agreement to his counterparts at the U.S. Department of Commerce. And he also said the European Commission would seek to reopen negotiations at a later date if the legal remedies available to European citizens who feel their privacy has been breached prove to be too weak.
In Washington, a Commerce Department spokesman said officials there are "pleased that the commission has chosen to move forward with the adequacy determination." He added that the Commerce Department plans to work closely with European officials to determine the exact timing for issuing documents that officially lay out the safe harbor provisions.
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